Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

Queen of Air and Nothingness

"Truth is a matter of perception."

- Jane Yolen, Sword of the Rightful King


Poor, stupid Lot - always trying to cajole me back to bed, caressing me at dinner as if running his hands across my ass in public would convince me to sleep with him willingly.

Nothing could do that, and he knew it.

If there had ever been anything akin to love in our marriage, it had died on our first night together when he had practically raped me in his haste to satisfy himself.

So no love remained.

The only things that I really had to love in life now were my sons.

I could see them from the dais - Gawain, my little blond haired angel; Gaheris, his hotheaded brother; Gareth, my favorite; and Agravaine, still an infant suckling at the wet nurse's teat.

I will do anything to protect them all.


It is Uther's fault I am in such a loveless marriage. He had loved my mother enough to commit adultery with her and then murder my father to marry her - although not many people know that story. He likes to say that he and Ygerna - or Igraine, as he calls her now - met after the death of her husband, my father, the Duke of Tintagel, and married out of love.

I say he enchanted her.

Because no mother could have allowed what happened to all of us.

He married me off to Lot of Orkney, a brutish, hulking Scot, who didn't care what I looked like as long as I provided him with several sons.

He promised Morgana to the church, then changed his mind and sent Elaine to be the prioress at Glastonbury.

Morgana he sent to marry one of the Welsh lords. I haven't seen her since.

But the news has just come that Uther the Pendragon has died, and a new king has been chosen with the help of the Merlin. A sword in a stone has proclaimed Arthur the new king.

We are to pack our bags at once and attend the new king's coronation at his new government seat - Camelot.


I have never seen such fine attire in my life - cloth of gold and silver cover every surface, and every woman and man is dressed in silks. At our Scottish court, we spend most of the year in homespun and furs. We are not a court of finery.

I am straining to catch a glimpse of this new king. We have been brought here to swear our allegiance to him, to aid him in becoming a true king, but maybe he can help me in return. Maybe he will allow me to escape this marriage. We move up the receiving line.

And then I see him.

He shines so gloriously, like the sun, that I am spellbound, and momentarily forget to do him my curtsey. I hear my name called out, along with my husband's, and then I sweep him a low, deep curtesy, the lowest I have ever given.

"Your Grace," I murmur.

"Lady Morgause," he replies. "You honor us with your presence."

I incline my head, and move on to my seat.


That night, as I lay in bed, I cannot get him out of my mind. His beauty is perfect compared to Lot's decrepitude. I find myself thinking how wonderful it would be to stroke his hair, to kiss his lips, to caress his jaw...

I fall asleep and my dreams are of Arthur.


He won't leave my mind, even as we return north again. By now, my confessor has informed me that I am lusting after our king, but I don't care anymore. For the first time in my life, I am feeling something.

And I love it.


I start to try and plot how to make him mine. Because there is nothing in my life as glorious, as wondrous, as desirous, as young King Arthur.

I consult texts of herbology and magic in order to discover how to make myself more desirable to him. And I visit the wise women, attempting to learn their ways. All of them are more than willing to teach me their methods, but one woman, seeing through my frail attempts to explain away my interest in love tinctures as a way to fix my marriage, warns me away.

"My lady," she says, "magic will not help you to gain what you want."

I choose to ignore her.


Soon, I have my plan. I will disguise myself as a beautiful young woman, visiting Camelot on pilgrimage. The king will be unable to take his eyes off of me. In his sudden desire to learn more about me, I will invite him to my rooms for an evening cup of mulled wine. And then he will be at my mercy.


But then more news arrives from Camelot as I plan my journey.


"Congratulations, wife," says Lot one morning.

"Congratulations on what?" I respond, my gaze on my sewing and my mind on the king.

"Have you not heard that you have a new sibling?" my husband inquires.

"Did my lady mother remarry?" I ask sweetly. That whore, I think to myself.

"No - she came forward and publicly acknowledged Arthur as her son by Uther Pendragon."

I feel faint inside. I smile and my lips begin to form words of joy, but my mind is in chaos.

My plan. It has fallen into pieces.

This is now a certain mortal sin.


I pace my room that evening, trying to come to terms with the news.

Arthur is my brother. Arthur is my brother.

Arthur is my half-brother.

So it's really not a sin. Surely it's not.

And I smile. Because now I have a way out.


I leave one morning, telling Lot that Morgana has requested my presence and I will be gone for several days. Then I climb into a litter and depart.

My sons wave goodbye.

I hope that someday I can explain to them that I did this for them.


The journey is long and arduous, but I hold it worth it for the reward at the end. I rehearse my lines as I am jolted up and down by the country roads.


Just outside of Camelot, I stop my servants and step aside. There, I change my gown and remove a small bottle from my bags. Swallowing the bitter mixture, I almost gag - it sticks like mud to my throat. My limbs burn. I nearly collapse. But then, everything returns to normal, and I walk back to my servants, who, after a brief explanation that I must remain disguised for the duration of our stay, nod and return me to the litter.

And so we enter Camelot.


As one gentleman and then another comes up to me, I smile and nod and ask if they have seen King Arthur, for I hear he greatly favors young women without a protector. They laugh and point me further into the hall.


When I see him, I lose my breathe for a second. But a kind knight walks forward, bows, and offers to escort me to the king. I thank him for his kindness, and soon I am before Arthur for a second time.

He now looks more radiant, if possible. He smiles down at me, every inch the heroic young man. And I'm lost.

"My lady," he says, "you do us a great honor by blessing our humble court with your beauty."

"You are too kind, Your Grace," I say - even now I am still able to verbally spar with men, though my tongue feels in knots and my stomach is jumping up and down. "I merely arrive to seek your protection while I travel as a pilgrim towards Canterbury."

His eyebrow rises in curiosity. "Canterbury?"

"Indeed, Your Grace," I respond. "I have a sister in orders and would like to pray for her continued blessings."

He smiles. "Perhaps we might discuss with you this journey to Canterbury in private at a later time?"

I smile back. "Of course, Your Grace," I say, curtsying. "Please feel free to call upon me this evening at your convenience."


The trap has been set. He is coming.


When he arrives, I pour him a cup of mulled wine and try to look surprised at his arrival.

It isn't too hard to look nervous in his presence.

After the first few sips, his hand is on mine.

After the second cup, he is rubbing my hand, massaging it as he talks.

After the third cup, all thoughts of Canterbury are forgotten.

All that I know - all that we can both think of - is the feeling of our lips pressed together.


The next morning, he wakes with a start, groaning slightly as the light touches his eyes. As he climbs out of bed and dresses himself, I know I feel no regret. Who could regret loving such a beautiful man?

I climb out, wrapping myself in my sheets, to run my fingers through his golden hair once more and touch my lips to his. He smiles down at me.

"My lady, I have a gift for you. For your - " he kisses me lightly " - pilgrimage." He hands me a girdle, made of beaten gold and decorated with green and blue gemstones.

"It was my mother's, I think" he says as I clasp it around my waist. Our mother's, I think. "I never really knew her as a child, but it suits you more than it ever could have her."

I stand on my toes, twining my fingers in his hair and pulling his head down to mine. "It's beautiful," I say, and, kissing him deeply, I drag him back into the bed.


I leave the court that afternoon, pleading that I must continue to Canterbury. We leave by the proper gate, and then, once out of sight of the city, I change into my garments and turn north once more. By the time I return home, the potion has worn off completely.

I am myself once more.


Lot is so excited to see me that he immediately pulls me to the marriage bed. Still trapped in my blissful remembrances, I allow him to do so.


News arrives slowly that the Merlin discovers my deception. And he tells Arthur. Arthur is disgusted at what has occurred, and begins to practice strong penance for his actions.

But I cannot regret my actions. Even if he was my brother.


Because soon our son will be here.


Our son, who will help me protect his brothers.


Who will help protect me.